(London: Printed for J. and R. Tonson et al. 1765). 218 x 130 mm. (8 1/4 x 5"). 2 p.l., v-lxxii pp. FIRST SEPARATE EDITION.
20th century speckled calf with a simple gilt border by Sangorski & Sutcliffe (with their stamp-signature on the front turn-in), raised bands on spine, red morocco spine title label with gilt lettering, and gilt edges (joints expertly repaired). Flower vase ornament on the title page. Ownership signature of "M. Dawes" on the title page. Courtney & Smith, p. 107; Fleeman 65.10SP/2b; ESTC T-6255. Corners and edges somewhat rubbed, but covers very well preserved, marginal loss to the upper corner of leaf a2, lightly toned throughout, but otherwise a very clean and appealing copy.
This is a well-preserved copy of the separate edition of Samuel Johnson's lauded "Preface" to "The Plays of William Shakespeare," complete with the half title. The "Preface" originally accompanied Johnson's eight-volume edition of Shakespeare (also published in 1765), a project that took the good doctor 20 years to complete, partly because of the scope of the undertaking and partly because of his own procrastination. Courtney & Smith notes that "Adam Smith is said to have called it 'the most manly piece of criticism that was ever published in any country.'" Indeed, the "Preface" seems to have been the most highly regarded and influential section of Johnson's entire corpus of work and gave "great impetus to Shakespearian study." It is quite likely that the "Preface" was one of the last sections Johnson delivered to the printer, as suggested by the presence of bracketed signatures in the original printing. That the editors saw fit to publish a separate edition of the "Preface" so close on the heels of "The Plays" speaks to the immediate popularity and acclaim it generated when first appearing as part of the larger work. The half title is not infrequently missing, a fact that in the present case is more than usually significant since it contains the price (one shilling), showing that the work was separately published. It is more than conceivable that the "M. Dawes" who signed the title page was the miscellaneous writer Manasseh Dawes (d. 1829), known in particular for his "Essay on Intellectual Liberty," published in 1780. (ST12849i)
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PJP Catalog: BOS20BF.040